I had the pleasure of deliver another workshop to help the RISE UK runners prepare for the Brighton Half Marathon last Thursday, 22th January and then again on Saturday, 24th January. The focus of this session was how to manage race nerves as well as strategies to boost their confidence.
We kicked off the session first by exploring fears the participants had with actually doing a half marathon. Since the majority of them had never done a half marathon before, they worried about the possibility of actually being able to complete the distance. I reassured them all that I firmly believed that everyone could complete the distance, even if it meant that they walked parts, and could even do so today (the day of the workshop). The key was on how their approached the event. I encouraged them to run within their comfort zones and if need be to take walking breaks.
I also encouraged the runners to remember their goals and their reasons for doing the race in the first instance. By reminding themselves that they all have different goals, and reasons for doing the race, means that they do not necessarily have to push themselves to run as fast as they can. They might simply want to achieve that distance for the satisfaction of having done it. Plus, the satisfaction of having set a scary goal for themselves, made a plan, sought out support and worked the plan! By reminding themselves of these reasons can help them get through any tough spots during the race.
Other fears included getting sick at the end of their run, which is usually related to pushing their bodies to hard, and getting injured (or re-injured). The fear of injury is a common fear and I encouraged the participants to focus on the positives. By focusing on what they need to do to remain strong, health and injury-free is important. So is doing whatever physio exercises or strengthening exercises that are specific to the injury.
Overall, the key to dealing with fears is thinking of strategies that help to address them head on or minimize any negative impact.
We then moved onto talking about dealing with race nerves, as they inevitably come up. One of the keys to keeping the nerves at bay is having some sort of routine that is written out and practiced during the long slow run training sessions. This familiarity, almost like getting up and going to work each morning, means that the runners can go on ‘auto-pilot’ and not have to get stressed about what they are going to do.
Similar to when they go away on holidays, they may not sleep well the night before, they might run around in the morning worried that they forgot something before even getting out the door. So, in the case of an event like the half marathon, all this nervous energy expended reduces the amount of energy available to fuel the run. Therefore, I suggested they write out everything they need to do from the day before to after the race. For example, on the day before ideally they get themselves organized and prepared so they do not have to think about things to much on the morning of the race. Things such as getting out all their cloths they might wear (from what they wear to the race, during the race and afterwards), any food they want, child care arrangements, transportation to venue and time they need to leave house to get to start (and what time they want to get to start). By trying to think of everything they might need to think about, before the actual day, will help them execute a plan that takes very little thought. Routine breeds familiarity which in turn reduces the nerves!
Another strategy to help calm the race nerves is to take ‘one conscious breath’ to give the nervous system the signal that all is ok. By exhaling for a longer period than their inhale (I suggested a 2:1 ratio), they are effectively telling their nervous system that it does not have to be in that ‘fight or flight’ stress response state. Additionally, doing progressive muscle relaxation exercises whereby they consciously imagine releasing all their muscles starting from their feet upwards to their heads can also help to feel more relaxed. It can help even more if they use their exhalation breath to release the muscles. Again, this signals to the body that there is no danger and it does not have to be in that heightened stress state.
We then moved onto confidence boosting strategies and talked about ‘Acting as if …’ they had lots of confidence. Simply by imagining the traits, behaviors and attitudes a confident person would have and then adopting it as if it was them, could give them that boost of confidence. I encouraged the participants to use their imaginations to help themselves feel as good as they can about themselves. This included doing a ‘confidence resume’ which is much like a CV for work experiences, a confidence resume is a list of achievements, successes and anything that makes the person feel good about themselves. So, when the participants wanted a boost of confidence, all they needed to do is re-read their resume to get that injection of the ‘feel-good’ feelings.
We concluded the session by doing a muscle resistance testing exercise to demonstrate how powerful their thoughts were on their physical bodies. By thinking thoughts such as ‘weak, tired, this is hard, I can’t do it’ the participants experienced the effect on the body. Then, when they thought thoughts such as ‘strong, powerful, confident, I can and I am’ they had a very different and amazingly real effect! This just reinforced the need to monitor their thoughts and keep them positive to have a positive effect on their running!
I concluded the session by inviting the participants to get in touch privately if they wanted to discuss any other issues or concerns.
I was also pleased to be able to point the runners to my Winning Strategies for Sports and Life book which goes into more detail about what we had covered in the session, and could provide guidance and advice to help them as they prepare for the challenge ahead.
For those participants who did not attend the first RISE UK workshop in November, you can see the summary here.